We love it when science and art intersect, and so an event coming up tomorrow as part of Hollow Earth Radio‘s Magma Festival caught our attention. Attendees and Internet radio listeners will get to experience Space Weather Listening Booth, a sound installation representing the Northern Lights, created by Seattle composers Nat Evans and John Teske.
Evans said his inspiration for the piece came during a trip to present some of his music in Fairbanks. While there he observed the Aurora Borealis, which he called a “life-changing experience.”
He had created several site- and time-specific works based on light in the past, and met Teske when both presented shows at an event last summer. They decided a collaboration might be just the thing.
“I wanted to capture the vastness of the Aurora Borealis experience that I had and also the intimacy of the night,” Evans recalled. “John’s ideas are very much in play with that and have a nice intersection with mine.”
“We were hoping to capture that intimacy but also the immersive sound,” Teske added.
Much of the composition is driven by scientific observations. Evans and Teske collected the actual geomagnetic data, solar wind data, and other information from the day Evans observed the Aurora and turned it into music.
“We chose some sounds that we felt would go well with one another and then moved those sounds and manipulated them along those data points,” Evans explained.
Teske took the shapes of the data curves and made sound waves out of them, which he said gives the composition “a nice scientific grounding.” Since the Earth turns, so does the music, rotating among the speakers that surround the listeners.
Teske said their prerecorded electronic track is joined by live musicians who have room to improvise. Thus listeners hear and feel the sounds of the phenomena that combine to create the Aurora Borealis.
“It was interesting to find that balance of what’s data driven, what’s pure music, and what mixture of those makes a good match,” Teske said.
Evans felt that striking the balance helped the composers give the piece a life of its own.
“The decision to use data and engage with it is a similar experience to giving yourself over to just sit and observe anything, like the Aurora or waiting for the Aurora or watching a sunset,” he said.
The first presentation of Space Weather Listening Booth was at the ONN/OF Festival on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in January. The performance space was little more than a walk-in closet, with room for four speakers, one musician, and a listener or two, who would come in for a minute or two. For the Magma Fest installation they’ve got a larger, gallery-size space that will accommodate four musicians and many more listeners, who will be able to take in the full 50-minute composition. Teske said listeners can understand the piece even if they only hear a short segment of it.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to do the whole presentation and see what that’s like,” he said.
Evans added that, while the festival atmosphere can be awesome, “it can also be like releasing a rhinoceros into a flower bed.”
“It will be nice to give space some space,” he quipped.
Both composers got started in music early. Evans was a percussionist in elementary school and wrote music in high school. He started college at Butler University as a performance major, but switched to composition. Teske was accepted to study physics at Cal Poly Tech, but decided music was his thing and majored in composition at the University of Washington. The two expect they will collaborate again.
The performance of Space Weather Listening Booth is scheduled for 8 p.m. Sunday, March 17 at Hollow Earth Radio, 2018A East Union Street in Seattle. There’s a suggested donation of $5–$15, cash only, at the door. It also will be streamed live on hollowearthradio.org. There will be a performance next Thursday, March 21, at a private residence in Portland. Contact the composers for more information.